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Divorce as a Deterrent to Marriage among Low-Income Parents. (In Conference Papers -- American Sociological Association, 2004 Annual Meeting, San Francisco, CA.)

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Personal Author: 
Waller, Maureen.
Peters, H. Elizabeth.
Conference Materials
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This paper draws on three waves of data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, and qualitative data collected for a subset of parents in the survey, to examine how low-income, unmarried parents' likelihood of divorce affects whether or not they marry after having a child together. We examine hypotheses generated from a qualitative study of unmarried parents in New Jersey (Waller 2002; 1999) that suggests that parents delay marriage when they perceive a high risk of divorce. In particular, parents said they avoided marriage when they saw "warning signs" of divorce in their partners, themselves, or their relationship, including immaturity, economic insecurity, excessive arguments, and abuse. Unmarried parents in the Oakland site of the Fragile Families Study revealed similar reasons for delaying marriage. Consistent with these qualitative reports, survey results indicate that married parents were more likely to divorce or separate within three years of their child's birth when mothers were younger, when they have not completed college, when the couple had experienced a high level of conflict in their relationship, and when the father had been abusive to the mother. We also find that unmarried parents with a higher predicted probability of divorce (based on these characteristics) had significantly lower odds of marriage within three years of the birth. Because factors related to divorce are also related to nonmarriage, we suggest that unmarried parents are reading the risk factors associated with divorce accurately. We conclude that new initiatives to promote marriage consider the long-term viability of marriages unmarried parents would enter into. (Author abstract)

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